Mommy Frog's Note: While Disneyland remains closed temporarily due to COVID-19, Walt Disney World has reopened! Check here for the latest information about Disney World's reopening procedures and updates on Disneyland's reopening status.
If you live in the western parts of the United States, Canada and Mexico, chances are Disneyland Resort is your main U.S. Disney destination. And with Disneyland being temporarily closed since March due to COVID-19, we know a lot of Disneyland fans are heading to Walt Disney World to find some Disney magic in this crazy time. Our Disneyland fan's guide to visiting Disney World will toadally help you transition to the very different Disney World Resort.
If you live locally or have had a Disneyland annual pass, you're probably a fellow theme park expert who uses all the tips and tricks we frogs recommend to skip the lines and avoid the crowds. However, if you are planning your first trip to Walt Disney World Resort (or it’s your first trip in a really long time), you definitely need to do your research because there are some major differences in planning a vacation at the two resorts. (That’s why you are reading this blog, right?!) Disney World is HUGE compared to Disneyland, and if you do not plan ahead you may miss out on rides, dining and character experiences. Never fear, Disneyland fans, we've put together the key things you need to know before you visit Disney World!
Hop along with us as your Disney World tour guides! It's important to note that this post focuses on both "the way things typically are" as well as "how things are temporarily" with COVID-19. We will point you toward the resources you'll need to plan the most magical trip to Disney World both at this time and for a more typical time.
Admittedly, Disney World has gotten a little closer to Disneyland in terms of planning during the pandemic. Disney World Dining reservations moved from reservations being made 180 days in advance to 60 days in advance during the pandemic. Disney World's FastPass+ system has been temporarily paused. That means there is less advance planning to worry about and you can approach a Disney World theme park in a similar way to a daily trip to Disneyland, which does not offer FASTPASS for every ride.
Nevertheless, Disney World is a much larger park with transportation to think about and more hotel choices. So let's hop to it and go over what you need to know before heading to Disney World when coming from a Disneyland perspective. Park hopping does return to Disney World Jan. 1, 2021, but it's going to operate a little differently than we've all been used to. Hop over to our Disney World Reservation System post for more details.
The Disneyland Fan’s Guide to Visiting Disney World — Planning
OMG! You're going to Disney World! This is so exciting! In order to achieve that hoppy family vacation you've always dreamed about, take a little time to get familiar with Disney World well before your trip. Overall, you are going to need to start planning your trip to Disney World a lot earlier than you would a trip to Disneyland. (Although we are seeing more and more guests booking last-minute trips lately!) Disney World is a very popular vacation destination! Definitely hop over to our Disney World crowd calendar to try to choose one of the least crowded times to visit.
While it’s always smart to plan your trips to Disneyland and learn as much as you can about FASTPASS, MaxPass, new rides and shows (BTW, we have Disney World Fan’s Guide to Visiting Disneyland for folks used to the East Coast parks), if you’ve been to Disneyland a few times, you know you can just show up and wing it and have a great time. This is not necessarily the case with Disney World. You have to do a little more prep work to gain maximum fun!
Whether you are new to Disney World or a seasoned visitor, you need to plan your visit in advance and make reservations for rides, shows and meals. There are some temporary changes right now that actually make planning a Disney World vacation much easier. But in non-COVID times, there are lots of logistics to plan and things to learn, including new lingo. Park hopping means hopping into some kind of vehicle or transportation to get to another park (rather than the quick walk across the esplanade at Disneyland). Speaking of park hopping, it has returned to Disney World, and we've found it easy to do. But there are a few changes so hop on over to our post on park hopping and how it works with the new Disney Park Pass reservation system.
Currently, FastPass+ isn't being used, and the restaurant reservation window has been shortened. FastPass+ usually means figuring out which park to visit which day and your must-do rides up to two months in advance. You'll even want to plan meals at popular restaurants at least six months in advance during normal operations (but that's 60 days during the pandemic)! If you do not put in the time to plan, you just might miss out. Nobody wants that! So do some research and you’ll be in good shape to make hoppy family memories.
One bonus of the Walt Disney World Resort property is experiencing the recreational fun you can have outside of the theme parks. You can rent boats and go kayaking or fishing. Disney World has several golf courses and mini golf courses. You can even go horseback riding! Many hotel guests build in some time to relax and enjoy their resort during their vacation too ... and each of the resort hotels has a toadally unique theme, which extends to its decor, pool and dining options. You might want to venture off the property to take an airboat tour and maybe even spot some alligators or take about an hour's drive to go to the beach for some relaxation.
Budgeting Your Time
Plan to allow extra time to get to the parks, hop between parks and wait in lines. Food lines and ride lines are generally longer at Disney World. But the good news is that Mobile Order is an option for some quick-service restaurants at Disney World too! Also, be sure to check the park hours. While we generally enjoy those late night hours at Disneyland until midnight, sometimes the parks close earlier at Disney World. Seasonal events, including Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and Disney After Hours events may lead to early park closures for non-party guests. You can check park hours and see special events on our Orlando crowd calendar. Knowing the park closure time helps in planning your day, whether you decide you'd like to attend a special event or would rather hop to another park to make the most of your time.
Keep in mind that while EPCOT may open early, World Showcase usually opens a little later (11 a.m. or so). If you're looking to hop around the world, that may be a better day to sleep in! Don't froget to check and see about any festivals going on during your visit too — EPCOT's festivals can really enhance your EPCOT time, and generally include limited-edition food, concerts, art and more.
Depending on the length of your vacation, you may opt to stick to one park per day at Disney World. Explore everything that park has to offer and move on to another park the next day. Park hopping requires taking transportation to another park, and that can waste valuable time if you're limited during your visit.
Prepare to Walk and Experience Weather
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort (if that’s also on your must-see list) are much larger properties than their West Coast counterparts. Even the ride exits are much longer than the Disneyland versions. The same rides may have larger footprints too! You’ll notice the castle is bigger and the hub and lands definitely have more space to them. That also mean you’ll be getting your steps in, so wear good walking shoes.
The climate will also differ from what you are used to at Disneyland. Check the weather forecast so you’ll know what to pack, but in warmer months, be prepared for heat, humidity and rain. Rain may be a rare event at Disneyland, especially in summer. However, thunderstorms tend to be an everyday event in the summer in Orlando, but the storms move in and out very quickly and are usually in the late afternoon. Bring that umbrella and poncho, and check both the forecast and the radar to stay ahead of the rain. Did you know a company makes PonchEars? The hood allows room for your ear headbands!
Consider Travel Restrictions
Not all places have travel restrictions and they seem to be in a state of flux, so look them up before you hop on a plane. If you are flying between California and Florida (or anywhere outside California for non-essential travel), you'll be expected to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning home. Travelers over the age of 16 who fly to Los Angeles have to fill out this waiver. Failure to submit the form is punishable by a fine of $500! The local government deems non-essential travel to be "tourism or recreational in nature." So you'll need to add some quarantine time onto the end of your vacation. Some schools also require a self-quarantine before returning to in-person learning after leaving the state.
Getting to Know the Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks
Disneyland Resort sits on about 500 acres and has two parks that are literally steps away from one another. Downtown Disney is next to the parks, connecting them to the three on-site hotels, all within hopping distance. In comparison, Walt Disney World Resort covers about 30,000 acres, has four theme parks and two water parks and there is a great distance between them all! It really is a whole new world!
Disney Springs is the Disney World equivalent to Downtown Disney, but it is not attached to the theme parks. It’s a shopping and dining destination in itself. Disney Springs is much bigger than Downtown Disney, with four distinct "neighborhoods" to explore. Disney Springs is also home to the world's largest World of Disney store. If you're staying at one of the EPCOT area hotels, you're steps away from Disney's BoardWalk, which offers even more entertainment, dining and shopping options.
The Walt Disney World Resort property is sprawled out and you cannot generally walk from park to park (although you can walk between EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Each park is unique and offers a different experience. Don’t ask us our favorite park. We love different parts of each park and have favorite rides at each park! They are each special in their own way!
Here are the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks and water parks:
- Magic Kingdom – This park is most like Disneyland Park but on a bigger scale. This park has many of the same Disneyland classic rides. But you may find them in slightly different places and with subtle differences you fans might notice. You may be used to the approachable and quaint Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. It’s almost overwhelming to see the towering Cinderella Castle in person. Don’t miss the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, PeopleMover (it is greatly missed at Disneyland), Country Bear Jamboree (also missed by many Disneyland fans) and the Hall of Presidents, as none of these can be found at Disneyland. Catch a show in front of the castle! That's something you don't get to experience at Disneyland.
- EPCOT - It is home to World Showcase and rides such as Test Track, Soarin’ (with a different ending), Spaceship Earth and Frozen Ever After.
- Disney's Hollywood Studios - Home to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (almost identical to Disneyland’s version), Toy Story Land, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (we miss this one from Disney California Adventure, and the Orlando version has a surprising twist!), Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and the new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (which will eventually make its way to the West Coast).
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom - Home to Pandora and the highly popular Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris. Check out the bioluminescence of Pandora at night and the lighting and projections on the Tree of Life. You get a zoo and theme park in one at Disney's Animal Kingdom!
- Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park (reopening March 7, 2021) - A snow-covered water park (seriously!), where you can take a "ski" lift to the top of the park's focal point, Mount Gushmore, for even more thrilling water attractions.
- Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park (currently closed) - A tropical lagoon (don't mind the odd shipwreck or debris left over from the typhoon that rolled through) that's home to the Crush 'n' Gusher tube slide, as well as lazy rivers and other water attractions. In the summer, Typhoon Lagoon also hosts H2O Glow Nights, an after-hours party featuring Toy Story pals and exclusive food and drink options.
Walt Disney World Resort Ticket Options
One difference between Disneyland and Disney World are the ticketing options. (Note: some of these options have changed since the resort reopened, and no matter your ticket, you'll need a park pass through the Disney World reservation system to visit. Park hopping is is available as of Jan. 1, 2021.) You may be familiar with Base tickets, which allow you to visit one park a day, or Park Hopper tickets, which allow you to visit more than one park each day. But Walt Disney World Resort also offers Park Hopper Plus tickets, which allow you to hop to the parks AND the water parks (plus some other extras, including ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, two mini-golf locations and Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course.) Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park will reopen March 7, 2021. Take a look at all of the ticket options available to you to see which best meets your family's needs.
Walt Disney World Resort Transportation Options
There are a lot of free transportation options for getting around Disney World. The choices vary based on where you are and are trying to go. Reach for the sky with the new Disney Skyliner Transporation System. It looks like a ski resort gondola, but with adorable Disney characters from both movies and attractions decorating the cabins. The Skyliner connects hotels such as Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.
The monorail lines access the Transportation and Ticket Center, EPCOT, Magic Kingdom and hotels such as the Polynesian, Contemporary and Grand Floridian Resorts. EPCOT's monorail is temporarily unavailable, but we wouldn't be surprised if this service resumes once park hopping returns!
By water, you can take ferries or water taxis to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs and certain hotels, including Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness.
Disney Skyliner, monorail, ferries, water taxis and buses are all toadally free to take around property. Here's the scoop on complimentary transportation available at each theme park:
Ground transportation choices include buses, which are available at every theme park and resort hotel. If want to get to your destination faster, you can always use Lyft or Uber. You can order Minnie Van service connected by Lyft (this service is temporarily unavailable) to get a Minnie-themed ride for up to six passengers. All ride share options are a separate, paid option. The Minnie Vans are actually owned and operated by Disney World, which means you'll have a cast member to chauffeur you. No matter which Disney transportation mode you use, tadpoles can snag a free, collectible transportation card — see if you can collect them all! Ask a cast member for one, and remember that each type of boat has its own card ;)
If you do drive to the theme parks and park, it will cost $25 per day for parking. You do not have to pay again if you park hop and drive to a different theme park on that same day. Disney hotel guests do not need to pay again to park at theme parks. Just remember to budget time to park, get to the park and go through security again when park hopping.
Are you staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel? If you aren’t doing much exploring outside the resort area, you do not need to rent a car. Hop over to our post on Orlando transportation to get the full scoop on your options for getting around Olrando. From Orlando International Airport (MCO), you can hop on Disney’s Magical Express, a complimentary motor coach service to and from the hotels! We love free! Sadly this service ends for arrivals beginning Jan. 1, 2022. Going carless to Disney World can be a great way to save money. Rent for the day if you want to explore other areas, or take a Lyft or Uber to other destinations.
MagicBands and My Disney Experience
One of the biggest changes for a Disneyland fan visiting Disney World is the use of MagicBands and My Disney Experience! MagicBands are rubber bracelets with RFID technology. Among its many uses will be to scan in at the FastPass+ entrance. If you are familiar with making ride reservations on your phone through the Disneyland app and pulling out the phone or park ticket to scan in for rides when using MaxPass/FASTPASS at Disneyland, then the process is similar, but scanning in is much easier at Disney World. There, you can make your reservations via the My Disney Experience app (or online or at a kiosk). You can scan your ticket or app code at the FastPass+ return line, or you can scan the rubber bracelet on your wrist. MagicBands are not necessary (you can scan a park ticket instead), but they do make life much easier. Keep in mind that the My Disney Experience app can be used in place of a MagicBand, but it is nice to just use your wrist instead.
MagicBands are so much more than FastPass+ keepers though. The bands are your ticket to enter the park. If you are staying at a Disney property, they can be used as a room key. You can set them up with a credit card to use in place of money in the parks and on the hotel properties. You scan it to collect your on-ride photos or PhotoPass and character photos.
MagicBands can be used to simplify your day and keep you from going into your wallets and pockets. You can purchase them on your own in advance. But if you stay on-site, they do make life easier. When you enter a park, that MagicBand is tied to you until the battery gives out (about two years, we're told). If you're staying on-site, these bands will come personalized with your name and a color of your choosing. Or, for an additional fee, you can customize your MagicBand with fun specialty themes. You'll see kiosks all around the property (including Disney Springs) for themed MagicBands (my most recent favorite was "A Goofy Movie" MagicBand!).
Keep in mind that MagicBand use is changing, so keep hopping back for updates. Guests will be able to use the My Disney Experience app to do the things they have been doing with MagicBands. If you want the ease of being hands free, MagicBands will still be an option. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, guests will no longer receive complimentary MagicBands with their resort hotel stays. Disney hotel guests may purchase MagicBands for $5 and up.
Much like the Disneyland app, My Disney Experience is a Disney World guest's one-stop-shop — it's where you'll make your Disney Park Pass reservations, dining reservations and view restaurant menus. It's where you'lll check-in for dining reservations, and where you can check for walk-up availability. It's where you'll mobile order, and where you can view park hours and park hopping availability. You can even see a map and directions, or filter for things like Guest Relations, PhotoPass stops, restrooms and more. My Disney Experience is also where you'll view or link to your photos. Be sure to download the latest version before you hit the parks!
FastPass+ at Disney World
We’ve mentioned that FastPass+ differs from FASTPASS and MaxPass at Disneyland. Hop over to this post to get up to speed and answer your Disney FastPass+ frequently asked questions. Keep in mind that after the parks closed due to COVID-19, Disney World canceled all FastPass+ reservations before the Disney World reopening. The FastPass+ reservation service is temporarily suspended to allow for extra space in queues to manage capacity and maintain physical distancing. Future plans for FastPass+ will be shared later. The following information is what the system is normally like. But for now, this is one less thing to worry about.
Besides optional MagicBands, the biggest difference between Disneyland and Disney World is you must make your FastPass+ reservation well in advance. For real! If you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you can make reservations up to 60 days in advance of check-in for your length of stay. Other guests can make reservations 30 days in advance of each day of their trip. It’s free, but you can only make up to three advance FastPass+ reservations (all have to be in the same park) per day via the My Disney Experience website, the Disney World My Disney Experience app or at kiosks in the park.
Another difference between Disneyland and Disney World is that your FastPass+ reservation times cannot overlap at Disney World. You must use the three reservations before you can attempt to collect more. You Disneyland fans may find this a bit limiting if you are used to having choices throughout the day. We often have overlapping times and hold multiple FASTPASSes at a time at Disneyland. But if you do score that Avatar Flight of Passage FastPass+ reservation in advance, you can breathe a sigh of relief. It's nice knowing you are getting on one of the best rides ever that day without the crazy long wait.
You know how when you arrive at Disneyland in the morning there are usually many FASTPASSes available? Well … that may not be the case at Disney World. You want to get some advance reservations because the in-park FastPass+ availability is more limited than at Disneyland. On a pre-COVID visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom, all that we could find availability for same-day in the park was shows and a character meet and greet. Booking in advance is key!
All of the rides are on the FastPass+ system, which differs from Disneyland. Getting FastPass+ reservations are the key to shorter lines. Likewise, the theme parks (except for Magic Kingdom) have Tier 1 and Tier 2 options when booking FastPass+ reservations. You can only book one Tier 1 ride in advance. Remember, you can’t get another FastPass until your initial three reservations have been used. So choose wisely! Some rides do have Single Rider lines if your party is willing to split up, including Expedition Everest.
How to Choose a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel
Now that you know a little bit about MagicBands and the advantages of staying on Disney World property (early FastPass window, woohoo!), that may help you decide whether to stay on property or elsewhere. Disney World is about a 20-minute ride from Universal Orlando Resort and other Orlando hotels if you decide to stay off property.
Advantages to staying at a Disney World hotel include:
- Extra Magic Hours (Extra Magic Hours were temporarily suspended. However, at some point in 2021, as part of Disney World's 50th Anniversary Celebration, hotel guests will be able to enter ANY theme park up to 30 minutes early EVERY day.)
- 60-day advance booking window for Disney FastPass+ reservations (FASTPASS+ is temporarily suspended)
- Discount MagicBands ($5 and up)
- Free transportation from the airport and around the resort (Until Jan. 1, 2022)
- Advance Dining Reservations 180 days in advance of your check-in day, for the entire length of your stay for Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests (temporarily moved to 60 days)
Some deciding factors when choosing a hotel include budget (Psst ... get a hoppin’ deal on a Disney World or Orlando hotels through your favorite froggy friends at Undercover Tourist), types of transportation available or distance from your favorite parks. The type of pool and if there is a waterslide or a cool theme (Princesses? "Cars?" Tropical hideaway?) might also be factors to help you to pick the best Disney World hotel for your family.
Planning Meals with Advance Dining Reservations
As the parks reopen, dining reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. Here's a look at what the system looks like under normal operation.
At Disneyland, you may have gotten used to making dining reservations last-minute and up to 60 days away for those harder-to-get reservations. At Disney World, you need to get those reservations early, especially for character dining experiences such as Cinderella's Royal Table. You can reserve up to 180 days in advance of your visit. Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests do have an advantage because they can book 180 days in advance, plus the entire length of their stay, up to 10 days ahead. All dining reservations can be made using the My Disney Experience app. Check Open Table for additional Disney Springs reservations. If you do miss out on securing a reservation, keep checking back for cancellations as your visit approaches.
Meeting Characters at Disney World
At Disneyland, you might generally know where to find characters. Sometimes characters wander freely or pop up near the park entrance. A princess might be in Fantasyland or the Royal Hall or out by the park entrance. You hop in line to get one-on-one time.
You will not find as many freely wandering characters at Disney World. At Disney World, most characters are normally a bit more hidden away or in consistent locations with formal lines. Some meet and greets are available on FastPass+; you can locate them on the map, with their associated wait times. Depending on your priorities for the day, using a FastPass+ to meet a character may be worth it.
During the reopening period, there will not be traditional meet and greets. Instead, look for other opportunities to see characters such as distanced visits and character cavalcades. Hop over to our post on how to see socially distanced Disney World characters right now.
Disney World Photos
With all of those magical moments to come, let’s talk about photos. If you want to those PhotoPass on-ride photos and videos — yes, they have videos! — the process and pricing is different from Disneyland’s MaxPass and other photo packages. You can purchase all of the photos for the day for a fee. Expect the Disney World fee to be more than you will pay at Disneyland. During our spring visit to Disney World, the price was $69.00. For longer stays, you can get all your vacation photos from the trip for $199.00 through Memory Maker. If you purchase up to three days in advance of your trip, you can save $30, making your total cost $169.00 for Memory Maker.
To collect photos throughout the day, scan your MagicBand or ticket under your ride photo (that certainly beats typing the attraction number into the app!) or from the PhotoPass photographer when getting a PhotoPass photo.
Are you excited to make your first trip to Disney World? Hopefully you've found our Disneyland fan’s guide to visiting Disney World hopful in planning and making your aware of the differences so you can have a magical trip! Remember that your froggy friends can help you save money with discount Disney World Resort tickets and hotels stays in Orlando and at Disney World.